RE­DUC­ING STIFF­NESS I have a 17-year-old sta­tion­bred mare who I com­pete in low level dres­sage, and we’re re­ally start­ing to de­velop a real part­ner­ship! But due to her age she is a bit stiff and judges are start­ing to pick up on it. Is there any­thing I can

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Vet Dave replies:

Jess, when it comes to sup­ple­ments you typ­i­cally get what you pay for. The raw prod­ucts of glu­cosamine and chon­droitin are ex­pen­sive – thus a cheap sup­ple­ment is un­likely to con­tain much of the raw prod­uct; how­ever, price doesn’t guar­an­tee that an ex­pen­sive one will ei­ther.

For older horses I typ­i­cally rec­om­mend prod­ucts con­tain­ing glu­cosamine, chon­droitin, devil’s claw and MSM. Please note the last two sub­stances are pro­hib­ited for use in com­pe­ti­tion, so should have the rel­e­vant with­hold times ob­served.

I have no spe­cific favourites and will typ­i­cally look at what prod­ucts an owner al­ready has to de­ter­mine if they are ap­pro­pri­ate.

I have clients who will swear by us­ing turmeric as an anti-in­flam­ma­tory agent; how­ever, cur­rent re­search would sug­gest that the dose of cur­cumin re­quired to get anti-in­flam­ma­tory ac­tion in a horse is ex­cep­tion­ally large, thus I don’t rec­om­mend its use, but I am more than happy for a client to feed it if they feel it is help­ing.

I like us­ing Pen­tosan poly­sul­phate in stiff horses as an in­tra-mus­cu­lar in­jec­tion. There are var­i­ous com­pa­nies that pro­duce Pen­tosan in­jec­tion and which­ever one your vet prefers will do just fine. It is li­censed as a treat­ment for once weekly in­jec­tions for four weeks. I pre­fer to use it off la­bel as a once a month treat­ment dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion sea­son and one ev­ery other month when spell­ing. Pen­tosan poly­sul­phate works by aid­ing in the re­pair of car­ti­lage in the joint and help­ing to slow or halt any fur­ther wear and tear. It also aids in the pro­duc­tion of joint fluid to aid in the cush­ion­ing ef­fect that the fluid has be­tween the two car­ti­lagi­nous sur­faces of the joint. In pref­er­ence from a bud­get per­spec­tive I would choose to use Pen­tosan over oral joint sup­ple­men­ta­tion.

If you have a very lim­ited bud­get then I have sev­eral non-sup­ple­ment re­lated sug­ges­tions for you to con­sider. The first would be to pay your far­rier more fre­quently. In-bal­ance feet with the cor­rect length toe will pro­vide less shock load­ing to the limb and also al­low for an ear­lier take off. This will min­imise stress load­ing on the joints and help main­tain sound­ness for longer. A shorter shoe­ing or trim­ming cy­cle will help to keep feet in per­fect con­di­tion for longer pe­ri­ods.

The sec­ond would be to crit­i­cally look at your own weight and rid­ing abil­ity. A rider in tune with their horse will keep ex­ces­sive force load­ing on joints to a min­i­mum and thus re­duce joint wear and tear. An rider flop­ping around in the sad­dle is of no help to the horse in any re­spect. Be hon­est with your­self. This may in­volve you get­ting more rid­ing in­struc­tion to im­prove your skill level or mo­ti­vate you to achieve per­sonal fit­ness.

Thirdly, I would ad­vise to aim to achieve qual­ity rather than just quan­tity in all work pe­ri­ods – be they com­pe­ti­tion or train­ing. A gen­er­ous time should be spent warm­ing up and down with any ex­er­cises at­tempted solely aimed to de­liver the les­son re­quired with a sen­si­ble level of ef­fi­ciency. the mar­ket – although qual­ity and sourc­ing is im­por­tant for them to be ef­fec­tive in horses. For ex­am­ple, there are joint for­mu­las based on chon­droitin and MSM which are ef­fec­tive in dogs, but can­not be used in horses as the bac­te­ria in their hind gut breaks it down so it is not ab­sorbed in an ef­fec­tive man­ner.

There is a USA patent for a spe­cific prod­uct for horses which is ef­fec­tive as a joint for­mula – you can look it up on­line as I don’t re­ally do prod­uct place­ment and am not on com­mis­sion!

Other ef­fec­tive prod­ucts in­clude high omega-3 oil from vegetable oils such as canola (oil seed rape). These work on the im­mune sys­tem where they in­crease cer­tain en­ti­ties that are in­volved in sup­press­ing in­flam­ma­tion. These seem to be im­por­tant in horses, and work com­pletely the re­verse to mech­a­nisms seen in other mam­mals such as cats and dogs, prob­a­bly be­cause horses are prey species which need to ‘keep up with the herd’. This has made them more de­pen­dent on such nu­tri­ents, which they de­rive from plant oils, to sup­press is­sues which could make them lame and more vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack.

There are var­i­ous nu­traceu­ti­cal (plant-de­rived) prod­ucts which have good data be­hind them now on stiff­ness and joint prob­lems – such as turmeric for arthri­tis for ex­am­ple. These are worth look­ing into – but do ask for the re­search and in­for­ma­tion be­hind the prod­uct to make sure it’s be­ing used in a high enough dose to be ef­fec­tive for horses.

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